Guest Column

Johann Rupert is not an aberration but the norm

2018-12-13 11:54
Johann Rupert in conversation with PowerFM's Given Mkhari.

Johann Rupert in conversation with PowerFM's Given Mkhari.

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The tendency to use the black middle class as a way of assessing the socio-economic conditions of South Africa is misleading because the middle class is a minority and does not reflect the entire populace, writes Mcebo Dlamini.

Johann Rupert, one of the richest white people in South Africa, recently had a public interview with PowerFM.

In the interview, he recklessly disrespected black people and showed complete disregard for the brutal history of South Africa.

He further denied that he was aware of any monopolies and stated that the idea of while monopoly capital did not make any sense to him. He continued to mock black people for buying expensive cars and going to expensive clubs citing that as the reason why black people are poor.

READ: How Johann Rupert's charm offensive backfired

Rupert boasted how his family had worked hard to amass its wealth and denied being racist by stating that he has black friends. He was calm and full of jest and at some point called leaders of the EFF "little Vendas in red berets". The crowd continuously laughed and applauded some of his remarks during the interview. 

In the interview Rupert proceeded as if South Africa has no history. He spoke as if black people were never colonised and they were never oppressed by the brutal regime of apartheid. To him black people in this country are poor because they do not work hard enough and are only interested in vulgar displays of opulence qua BMWs and Taboo.

Some people on Twitter saw this ignorant statement as accurate which is not the case. It was a dangerous generalisation by Rupert because the reality of the matter is that the majority of South Africans live below the poverty line and consequently cannot afford BMWs. Most South Africans do not know what animal Taboo is. 

The tendency of using the black middle class as a way of assessing the socio-economic conditions of South Africa is misleading because the middle class is a minority and does not reflect the entire populace. 

It is not my intention to dwell on this point but it should be mentioned that the conditions that make some black people display opulence are conditions of powerlessness. As Andile Mngxitama suggests, conspicuous consumption is a direct consequence of the post-colonial disorder.

The only time black people have a semblance of power is when they are conspicuously consuming. This is because the society that they live in always reminds them that they are black. In the workplace they are controlled by white people who are less qualified than them. They are given credit that will allow them to go to Taboo and buy expensive cars. 

Black people from the townships are overworked in retail shops and in other people's gardens, so on weekends they take to alcohol and wearing their expensive clothes. Vulgarly displaying opulence is the only way black people know how to deal with this unjust and dehumanising state of affairs.

I am not suggesting that black people do not have agency but often there is a relationship between conspicuous consumption, power and the economic order of a particular polity. 

What I am interested in though is how the conditions that enable people like Rupert to arrogantly go on national television and undermine black people still exist many years after the "end" of apartheid.

The answer to this question is quite simple; it is because white South Africa has power and they are aware of it. They are aware that they control the land, the economy, the media and they even have control of certain black elites. This is why Rupert kept on boasting about the many powerful black people that he is close with and that he can summon to defend him. 

White people like Rupert understand how far-reaching their monopoly is and that is why they can nonchalantly go on air and speak without fearing any consequences.

It should obviously anger black people that in the midst of the poverty that engulfs them there are white people like Rupert who not only deny their apparent monopoly but continue to mock black people about their condition as if it is self-inflicted. 

Black people on social media demonstrated discontent about the Rupert interview but one wonders what this discontent means in concrete terms. I am sometimes tempted to believe that it is just performative rage because beyond this "rage" no concrete steps are taken by the people in the form of demonstrations or pickets.

If we are really going to combat white arrogance then we have to do more than just complain through our phones – action must be taken. If this is not done there will be no substantive change as we have seen in the past.

We must not have amnesia. The Rupert interview is not the first act of white arrogance that we see. In our communities, places of work and in academic institutions we constantly have to deal with white arrogance. The Rupert interview is not an aberration in our South Africa, it is the natural order of things. 

We need to begin being pro-active in how we demonstrate against injustice. We need to demonstrate in a way that will effect substantive change, the change we want to see.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the youth of South Africa, particularly the black youth, is becoming conscious of their condition and its implications. What is needed is to formulate strategies that will tangibly address our concerns.

White arrogance like that demonstrated by Rupert should have no place in the South Africa we are building.  

- Dlamini is a former Wits SRC leader and student activist. He writes in his personal capacity.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    johann rupert  |  mcebo dlamini  |  white monopoly capital  |  poverty
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